The lost art of mending clothes - rediscovering it one stitch at a time
by The Dyás Admin·
I sigh as I see yet another hole in my tights. Lately I seem to be going through loads of them. With a guilty hunch I put them in the bin. I start to think of my mother, and her darning socks, tights and fixing holes in garments of all shapes and sizes.
Growing up with my mother and grandmother, both who had lived through the second world war, I was taught that you don’t throw away clothes. You fix or repurpose them, and you stitch and patch and sew them back together to make them live as long as they can. Every woman in my family had a sewing basket or even a sewing machine, and a cupboard full of fabric scraps, rolls of yarn (which would get taken out and rolled around by a younger version of myself) and tins full of buttons.
But my own mending kit is a sorry tub, smaller than a standard cake tin, and is put to shame by the setup that my late grandmother used to use. Whilst I pride myself on looking after my clothes so that rips, holes or undone hems are rarely an issue, I rely on my partner to mend my children’s clothes and to sew on buttons when they have fallen off. Looking at the discussions around fixing, mending and repurposing fashion, I can see that I am not alone. The lifestyle created by capitalism and the West has neither the time nor patience for repairs, especially not from our own hands.
But it’s not just that individuals can’t be bothered with the added hassle of darning holes in socks and patching up the knees of kids’ school trousers. Despite more companies, including designers, dabbling with repair services, customers still have reservations - and the process is far from being as neat as a brand new garment.
“Repairing clothing is costly, time-consuming and can be logistically difficult to do at scale. Critics argue brands have little incentive to offer repairs because it’s more in their interest to sell new things rather than repair old ones. It is also a fundamentally different business to run: consumers often have unrealistic expectations about what a repair will look like or how long it will take to complete, while the labour involved is more intensive because, by definition, repairs are garment-specific and cannot mimic the efficiency of manufacturing new garments.”, says Cernansky (2022), who also spoke to upcycling companies, such as Suay in Los Angeles. In other words, caring for our clothes, which includes fixing and mending them, rather than binning them is as essential to a sustainable future as giving up fast-fashion.
“We are on the verge of running out of clean water and clean air, and this is something that we have to do — start using our textiles that already exist”, says Suay’s CEO, Lindsay Rose Medoff.
There is no lack of resources or instructions on how to try your hands at sewing on a button, darning your woolly socks or stitching up a hem that’s come undone. There are free YouTube tutorials giving step by step instructions, as well as local courses. There're even services that will wield the yarn and needle for you if you don’t have the time and patience. But Mallalieu, a fashion lecturer from Australia, suggests giving it a go anyway. “Know that it’s not that hard and give it a crack. The most important thing is knowing that you can do it, especially if you put in a little bit of time.” (in Tonti, 2021)
However, it takes more than just learning how to stitch on a button or taking your shoes to the cobbler to get resoled. Medoff (in Cernansky, 2022) is concerned that people’s minds and expectations need to adjust and expectations of repairs are as diverse as individual sewing skills. Whilst lots of people embrace the new idiosyncrasies of a fixed product, others may not be as keen on having a different colour patch on a denim jacket or a different colour yarn holding together the fabric of a summer dress. She points out that this is a complex and demanding process, taking individual garments and customers alike into consideration. “You’re dealing with the personality of the repair, and the personality of the person getting it fixed. Not everybody wants it to be fixed in the same way,” (Medoff, in Cernansky, 2022)
Nevertheless, it may be exactly the way forward and a move away from perfection and identical clothing. Tonti (2022) suggests that clothes menders love their jobs because they don’t just keep a garment from the fate of landfill, but they also add to its history and unique story. What is more, there is an undeniable quirkiness to visibly fixed, stitched and patched up clothes. All you have to do is be brave, step away from the crowd, grab a needle and get started. You most likely won’t regret it. And neither will the planet.
Words by Carola Kolbeck